Guinea Pig Recipes from Marx Rumpolt

A brief interruption of our usual source material. I have been asked to do as lecture on the Columbian exchange as part of an SCA teaching event and this is one of the odder things to be found in our German sources:

Guiney pig from the Historia Animalium (1551) courtesy of wikimedia commons

There are four kinds of dishes to be prepared from a guinea pig (Indianischen Schwein)

1. Quickly roasted like a suckling pig because it is small.

2. Smoked or salted, be they cold or warm, they are good to eat. They are also good in (i.e. cooked with) green cabbage (gruenem Koel)

3. Cooked in sauce, yellow, white, or nicely sour with lemons, in pepper sauce, or with its own blood.

4. In pastries, be they warm or cold, or cooked black in its own blood it is good to prepare in many ways.

(Marx Rumpolt p. lxi r)

There is nothing intrinsically surprising about these recipes. By the 1580s, many forms of New World wildlife had become established in Europe as novelties. The first description of the guiney pig comes from Conrad Gessner‘s Historia Animalium (1551). Hieronymus Bock mentions turkeys kept in parks and eaten by the 1550s, and Leonhart Fuchs describes chili peppers in the 1560s. Rumpolt himself also has recipes for turkey which I hope to add soon. As cook to the elector spiritual of Mainz and very likely trained in a Habsburg court kitchen, he was in a good position to be aware of the latest fads.

It is interesting to note that these recipes are entirely familiar. This is a common pattern in the early European adoption of American foodstuffs: They are integrated in pre-existing slots. Curcubita squashes are prepared like lagenaria gourds, the vast universe of phaseolus beans corraled into the niches of broad bean and black-eyed pea, turkeys cooked like bustards or other game birds, and the humble guinea pig treated like a rabbit. Indeed, if you wanted to recreate any of these recipes, the chapter on rabbits will be your first reference. European cooks were happy to use new resources, but not to have their toolkits and methods altered. This is an interesting difference to other parts of the world where different cooking m,ethods were more readily adapted, and goes some way to explaining why some New World crops took a long time to become accepted.

Early seventeenth century Dutch illustration of a guinea pig courtesy of wikimedia commons

As an aside, the name Rumpolt gives is not commonly used today. The modern Meerschweinchen is a diminutive of Meerschwein, sea pig, a word that originally described the harbour porpoise (phocoena phocoena) which is still called Schweinswal in German. We eat neither these days. By the sixteenth century, nomenclature was still in flux and Rumpolt himself uses the word Meerschwein to refer to what, going by the illustration, appears to be a porcupine (though trusting the illustrations on exotic creatures is not wise in Rumpolt, and this image is used at least twice). The Flemish illustrator of our early seventeenth century image calls what is clearly a guinea pig an Indian rat, Cuniculus indicus (Indian rabbit) and Cochon d’Inde (Indian pig). Things took a while to settle.

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